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July 5, 2011 > History: Sack City

History: Sack City

The neighborhood known as "Sack City," and later became Alder Avenue, was once part of the grazing lands of Mission San Jose. Located north of the town of Centerville, the area was later owned by Elias Beard. Stretching a half-mile in length from the County Road (now Fremont Blvd.) was a road labeled Sack City Lane on assessors' maps. The origin of the name is unknown, but because the road came to a dead-end abutting the Patterson ranch, it seems likely that its sack-like shape gave rise to the name.

In the 1870s Sack City Lane was adjoined by 14 parcels ranging in size from three to eight acres. All of these properties were owned by Portuguese immigrants from the Azores or children of Azorean immigrants. Vegetables and fruit - particularly cherries and apricots - were cultivated, often by owners who also had other jobs. A number of them worked on large farms, such as the Patterson Ranch.

One of the parcels was sold by Beard to Manuel Rodrick in 1867. His heirs sold the property to Antonio Francisco in 1897, who in turn sold it to Antonio Silva Rosa in 1898. Upon his death, the land passed to his son, Francisco Silva Rosa, whose son, George Silva Rosa, owned it by 1929. Three years later George sold it to Arthur Peterson. It passed to J. C. Wallman who sold it some time before 1942 to Charles and Henry Gianbruno in whose family it remained for over 60 years.

A neighbor of the Gianbrunos, Arnold George grew up in Sack City in the 40s and 50s. By that time the street was already named Alder, but the Sack City designation lived on. He remembers an idyllic childhood in a neighborhood surrounded by orchards "as far as the eye could see." He knew all the farmers and describes walking out the back door to hunt pheasants in their orchards. Many of the neighbors were hunters, and hunting dogs were a common site. Boys on the street rode their bikes and played baseball. The elementary school bus picked them up at the door, but they had to walk to Main St. (now Fremont Blvd.) to catch the bus to Washington High School.

Arnold describes the neighborhood as he knew it through a virtual walking tour down the street. Entering Alder Ave. from Main St., the first house on the right belonged to Pat and May Francis, cousins of the George family. They had two children, Patrick and Bernadine. While Pat did some farming, he also worked at the Graham Foundry in Newark. Next door lived Dallas and Lois Paul with their two boys, Dallas and Ray. Not farmers, they owned the local mortuary, The Chapel of the Palms. Active in many community organizations, they entertained frequently.

The Cunha family who farmed came next, followed by Pete and Rose Lemos who had an apricot orchard. They also had six children, and some pigs, cows and rabbits. Their next door neighbors were the Georges. Clarence and Margaret had three children - Michael, Arnold, and Vivian. They grew some cherries, but mostly apricots. Clarence worked for the Centerville School District for many years and retired as Head Custodian at Kennedy High School. He was a Centerville Volunteer Fireman from the 30s until the city incorporated in 1956.

Their next door neighbors were not farmers. Clifford and Bonnie Dinsmore had five children, and he operated the Red and White Store in Alvarado. The Gianbruno brothers lived on the adjacent property. Charley was friendly with the neighborhood children, but Henry was more reserved. One favorite memory is that they owned two rather unruly Doberman Pinchers. The boys riding their bikes felt that the dogs were lying in wait for them to go by, so they always rode by the Gianbruno house very fast! The street dead-ended at the Tony Martin farm. He and his wife had two children - Dolores, and Ronald who still lives on the property. Tony grew apricots, but also did tractor work for other farmers.

Across the street, the two Fawsett brothers operated the Centerville Ice Plant which distributed ice for home ice boxes before the coming of refrigerators. One long-time employee remembers the crushing of 300 pound blocks of ice that was spread over produce shipped on railroad cars by farmer Lloyd Bailey. In the summer they made "clear ice", and long-time residents remember going there to buy ice, especially when they had parties. With the development of other means of icing produce for shipment, ice dispensing machines and refrigerators, the business closed. For some time the building served as a National Guard Armory and later as a warehouse.

Next to that large building lived the Torres family who were farmers. Adjoining them were Jack and Alice Gomes and their three daughters - Loretta, Eileen and Dorothy.

Joe farmed, but he also worked for Graham in Newark. The Jack Silva family next door included two boys, Jack Jr. and Buddy. The family ran a dry cleaning business. Lizzie Nunes will be remembered as the nice little lady with the giant Great Dane who followed her everywhere! Her home was one of those razed to make way for construction of Oliveira School. A couple of properties were located between her home and the corner of Main St., but the owners' names are lost in time.

The development of Cabrillo Park in the 50s spelled the end for Sack City. Traffic now flowed down Alder Avenue onto Coronado Drive and the "sack" was no more.

Entering the street today from Fremont Boulevard, to the left is a stereo and tire store. On the right is the Shining Star Montessori School and beyond that the Alder Avenue Baptist Church and Hearts and Hands Christian Pre-School. Further up the street on the left is Oliveira School. Few of the original homes remain, and the area has largely been filled with single family homes, occasionally separated by an apartment complex.

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